"From little things, big things grow," Kevin Rudd said as he announced that he would kickstart fundraising efforts by the National Apology Foundation with a personal contribution of $100,000.
Delivering the 2015 Reconciliation Lecture at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra on Wednesday evening, the former Australian Prime Minister said that the mission to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians "must continue beyond the passing seasons that we call politics."
"The Board of the National Apology Foundation has agreed that one of its major priorities over time is to raise an endowment for a permanent Chair here at the Australian National University dedicated to the explicit analysis of the policies necessary for, and the core data associated with, 'closing the gap.'
"To be blunt, whoever the future government of Australia happens to be, we want to keep the bastards honest. We want to ensure the necessary data is collected to measure our success or failure in bridging the inter- generational gap of entrenched Indigenous advantage. This mission must continue beyond the passing seasons that we call politics.
To be blunt, whoever the future government of Australia happens to be, we want to keep the bastards honest.
"The Chancellor tells me such a Chair will need a $5 million endowment. I'm tempted to say, to paraphrase that great work of Australian cinematography, and the array of philosophers portrayed within it, that 'they've got to be dreaming.'
"We will talk about the numbers, and of course the university's own contribution. Today however I wish to announce I will be making an initial personal contribution of $100,000 to the Foundation to begin this fundraising campaign. As the song says, 'from little things, big things grow'."
Mr Rudd said that Australia's future depended on reconciliation and encouraged the Australian Government to adopt further targets in its Close the Gap program.
"We should begin by reminding ourselves why reconciliation is not optional," he said. "But necessary for our national future."
New indicators include those concerning Indigenous access to higher education and those concerning Aboriginal incarceration rates, which Amnesty International reports as 26 times the rate of non-Indigenous Australians.
"As a nation, we must not shrink from these challenges. We must embrace each of them together with the great Australian characteristics of courage, pragmatism and resolve," he said.
He also pointed to the importance of removing racial elements from Australia’s Constitution.
"No other people within our Australian family, least of all the first Australians, would or should tolerate the language of race in our founding covenant."
But he emphasised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must be making decisions that concerned them.
"I do not believe it is productive for me to engage in the debate over these more contentious questions of constitutional reform,” he said. “That, in my view, is properly the province of Indigenous Australians and their engagement with the Australian political process. I am happily no longer part of that process."
The National Apology Foundation was established by Mr Rudd in 2014 in order to honour the principles of his historic 2008 apology, by aiming to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians when it comes to life expectancy, education, income and future prospects.